Beginner’s Guide: Top Chicken Tamales Cooking Tips

Craft delicious chicken tamales with essential ingredients like masa harina, chicken broth, and queso fresco. Follow step-by-step instructions for perfect tamales, from soaking corn husks to steaming to perfection. Master the art with tips to avoid common mistakes and elevate your tamale game.

Homemade Corn and Chicken Tamales Ready to Eat

Making chicken tamales may seem daunting, but a few key tips can make it a delicious adventure. From perfecting the masa to crafting flavorful fillings, these beginner-friendly tips ensure an enjoyable and successful experience.

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Essential Ingredients for Chicken Tamales

Hot Tamales

Diving into the wonderful world of tamales starts with gathering the right ingredients. Here’s your go-to guide for everything you need to create mouthwatering chicken tamales, even if it’s your first time rolling them up.

For the Masa Dough

  • Masa Harina: The backbone of any tamale, this nixtamalized corn flour is crucial for authentic tamale dough. Brands like Maseca are widely available and highly recommended.
  • Vegetable Shortening or Canola Oil: Traditionally, lard gives masa its distinctive texture, but for a lighter version, vegetable shortening or a neutral oil can be used. Shortening is preferred for its stability in the dough.
  • Chicken Broth: Incorporating chicken broth instead of water infuses your masa with a depth of flavor and a tender texture. Use the broth from boiling your chicken for an extra boost of taste.
  • Baking Powder and Salt: These ingredients ensure your masa is fluffy and well-seasoned.

For the Chicken Filling

  • Chicken: Opt for boneless, skinless chicken thighs for their juiciness and flavor. Breasts are an alternative but be mindful they don’t dry out during cooking.
  • Green Chile Sauce (Chile Verde): A vibrant blend of tomatillos, jalapenos, poblano peppers, and spices. Making it from scratch surpasses store-bought versions, but with a pinch, a good quality jar of green salsa can substitute for a crunch.
  • Queso Fresco: This crumbly, mild cheese adds a creamy component to your filling. Mix it in with your chicken and green sauce for a deliciously melty texture.
  • Seasonings: Essential seasonings include garlic, onion, salt, and sometimes epazote or cilantro, to provide your filling with layers of flavor.
  • Corn Husks: Dried corn husks are the traditional wrapping material for tamales. They need to be soaked in hot water to become pliable before you can fill and fold them. They’re not just packaging; they add a subtle corn flavor to your tamales as they steam.

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Chicken Tamales

Diving right into the classic cuisine, here’s a beginner-friendly guide to crafting delightful chicken tamales, blending tradition with taste effortlessly.

Preparing the Chicken Filling

  • Start with cooking the chicken. You’ll need roughly 3 ½–4 cups of shredded chicken. Boil chicken breasts or thighs until fully cooked, then shred.
  • Make your salsa verde. Utilize a blend of tomatillos, onion, garlic, epazote, serrano chile, and cilantro. Roast tomatillos, garlic, and chiles, then blend with the rest of the ingredients until you achieve a coarse puree.
  • Combine chicken with salsa. Mix your shredded chicken into the salsa verde, seasoning with salt to taste. The goal is a moist but not soggy filling that’s bursting with flavor.

Mixing the Perfect Masa Dough

  • Find quality Masa Harina. Your tamale’s texture hinges on good masa. Opt for brands like Bob’s Red Mill or Masienda for authenticity.
  • Blend with chicken broth and fat. Gradually mix Masa Harina with chicken broth and vegetable shortening or lard until well combined. Aim for a creamy consistency similar to peanut butter.
  • Finish with baking powder and salt, ensuring your dough is airy and well-seasoned. Test the dough’s readiness by dropping a small piece into the water; if it floats, it’s set.

Soaking the Corn Husks

  • Submerge husks in hot water. Place them in a large bowl, cover them with hot tap water, and weigh them down with a plate to keep them submerged.
  • Soak until pliable. This usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour. Soaked husks are easier to fold and won’t tear as you wrap your tamales.
  • Drain and dry the husks. Shaking off any excess water, lay a husk flat in your hand or on a surface.
  • Spread the masa. With a spoon, flatten out a portion of masa on the husk, leaving room at the edges.
  • Add the filling. Spoon a generous amount of chicken mixture onto the center of the masa.
  • Fold and wrap. Bring the sides of the husk together so the masa encloses the filling, then fold up the bottom of the husk. Optionally, tie with a strip of husk to secure.
  • Steam to perfection. Stand the tamales upright in a steamer pot, cover them, and steam them for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Cooking Your Chicken Tamales

Delicious tamales accompanied by an atole champurrado typical Mexican food

After carefully wrapping your chicken tamales in soaked corn husks, it’s time to move on to the cooking phase. This step is crucial for ensuring your tamales are cooked to perfection, offering a delightful taste and texture that will surely impress.

  • Properly Fill Your Steamer: Arrange your tamales upright in the steamer, ensuring they’re open-end up. This allows steam to circulate freely, cooking the tamales evenly. If using a traditional steamer, placing a coin at the bottom can serve as an indicator; the rattling sound means there’s enough water, ensuring your steamer never runs dry.
  • Maintain Water Levels: Keep an eye on water levels during steaming. Adding hot water as needed helps maintain consistent steam, which is key to cooking the tamales thoroughly without interruption. Remember, running out of water can lead to burnt tamales or even damage your pot.
  • Cover with a Wet Towel: Before placing the lid on your steamer, lay a damp cloth or additional corn husks over the tamales. This extra step helps trap steam and prevents water from dripping onto your tamales, ensuring they cook with moist heat throughout the process.
  • Steam Duration: Steam your chicken tamales for about 1 to 1.5 hours over medium heat. Adjust the time based on the size and number of tamales you’re cooking. Large batches or larger-sized tamales might need additional time.
  • Husk Peel Test: One of the most reliable indicators a tamale is cooked through is if the corn husk peels away cleanly from the masa. If the masa sticks to the husk or seems wet, the tamales likely need more time to steam.
  • Temperature Check: For those who like precision, using a food thermometer can ensure your tamales are fully cooked. The internal temperature should reach at least 165°F (74°C), indicating the filling is hot and safe to eat.
  • Texture Observation: The masa should be firm and hold its shape, not mushy or overly soft. Upon cooling for a few minutes after steaming, properly cooked tamales will have a consistent texture, making them easy to handle and serve.

By following these tips, you’ll not only master the art of cooking chicken tamales but will ensure that every batch comes out steamy, savory, and supremely satisfying. Remember, making tamales is as much about the experience as the delicious results, so enjoy the process and look forward to enjoying your homemade tamales with friends and family.

Storing and Reheating Tamales

Mastering chicken tamales is just the start; knowing how to store and reheat them efficiently ensures they remain as delightful as when first made. Here are the best practices for freezing your tamales to keep them fresh and delicious.

  • Prep Before Freezing: Once your tamales have cooled down after steaming, consider wrapping each tamale in parchment paper or plastic wrap. This initial wrap helps maintain the tamale’s moisture and integrity during the freezing and thawing processes.
  • Use the Right Container: Place your wrapped tamales in an airtight freezer bag or a vacuum-sealed bag. Removing as much air as possible from the bag will prevent freezer burn and preserve the tamales’ flavors.
  • Label Your Tamales: Don’t forget to label the freezer bag with the date and contents. Tamales can be frozen for up to 4-5 months, but it’s always best to enjoy them sooner for the best taste.
  • Thawing Process: When you’re ready to enjoy your tamales, move them from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you plan to eat them. Thawing them slowly in the fridge ensures they reheat evenly.
  • Microwave Method: For a quick reheating method, wrap your tamale in a damp paper towel and microwave it with the husk on. This method helps steam the tamale back to its original moistness. Typically, it takes 1-3 minutes to reheat thoroughly.
  • Oven Method: If you have a bit more time, preheat your oven to 325°F (163°C). Wrap the tamales (thawed or frozen) in aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes if thawed, or about 30-40 minutes if frozen. The foil and husk keep the moisture in, preventing the tamales from drying out.
  • Steaming Method: Steaming is another great option to reheat tamales without drying them out. Just place the tamales in a steamer for about 15-20 minutes until they are heated thoroughly. This method works best for thawed tamales.

Remember, irrespective of the reheating method you choose, the goal is to restore the tamale’s internal temperature to around 165°F (74°C) to ensure it’s warmed throughout. By following these storage and reheating strategies, you’ll enjoy your chicken tamales at their best, maintaining the delightful flavors and textures that you loved at the first bite.

Tips for the Best Chicken Tamales

Tamales. Prehispanic dish typical of Mexico and some Latin American countries. Corn dough wrapped in corn leaves. The tamales are steamed.

Making chicken tamales is an art form, and like any art, it requires a bit of finesse and know-how. Here, we’ll delve into some top tips designed to elevate your chicken tamale game from good to great.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Using Dry Corn Husks: Ensure your corn husks are thoroughly soaked until pliable. Dry husks can tear easily, leading to frustration and less-than-perfect tamales.
  • Overfilling the Husks: While it’s tempting to stuff as much filling and masa as possible into each tamale, doing so can cause them to burst open during cooking. Aim for a balance of masa to filling.
  • Not Steaming Long Enough: Undercooked tamales can be doughy and unappetizing. If they don’t peel away from the husk easily after the recommended cooking time, steam them a bit longer.
  • Skipping the Fat: Whether it’s shortening, lard, or vegetable oil, fat is essential for tender, flavorful masa. Crisco brand is a trans-fat-free option for those health-conscious chefs.
  • Forget the Coins Trick: A rattling coin in your steamer pot means there’s enough water. No rattle? It’s time to add more water to prevent your pot from drying out.
  • Swap the Salsa: The classic chicken tamales feature salsa verde, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different salsas. A jarred chipotle or ancho chili sauce can add a smoky depth to your tamales.
  • Cheese It Up: Consider adding small chunks of Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese to your tamales for a creamy, melty surprise in every bite.
  • Go Beyond Chicken: While these tips focus on chicken tamales, the same techniques apply to other fillings. Pulled pork, beef barbacoa, or even vegetarian options like roasted vegetables can make for exciting tamale variants.
  • Add some Freshness: A bit of finely chopped cilantro or a squeeze of lime juice mixed into your masa can bring a fresh, zesty flavor that perfectly complements chicken.
  • Create a Spice Blend: Personalize your tamales with a homemade spice blend. Mix classic spices like cumin, coriander, and chili powder to enhance the filling with your unique flavor signature.

Remember, the best tamales are made with patience, care, and a bit of creativity. By avoiding common mistakes and exploring a variety of flavor variations, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of tamale making. Enjoy the process and get ready to impress with your delicious, homemade chicken tamales.

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